An illustration of two books, Romeo and Juliet, and The Love Hypothesis against a hazy pink and blue background. In between the books, a black-haired boy and a brown-haired girl with rosy cheeks lock lips.
Credit: Dorota Dziki

A literary guide to Valentine’s Day

By Leah Hart

Leah Hart talks us through the best love stories to accompany you this Valentine’s Day.

With the return of February, we once again meet that blessed day of romance that follows the gloomy month of January. With midterms looming and a higher likelihood of being hit by Covid’s arrow than Cupid’s, what better time for escapism?

The Ancient Greeks kept the larger-than-life love stories of Gods and mortals alive whether they were tragic or uplifting. Sanskrit literature and Indian mythology has a rich tradition of embodying love and desire through various deities, my particular favourite being the story of the stubborn Princess Savitri who nagged the God of Death until her husband was returned to her. Foundational to Christianity and the Bible is also the love story between Adam and Eve; God acting as matchmaker for his little dolls. Pretty much every country has its own version of Romeo and Juliet. Even the real passions of historical figures have been mythologised and idealised, such as the relationship between Mary and Percy Shelley – a couple adored especially by literature nerds – Cleopatra and her boyfriends, and, *looks at camera*, Pocahontas and John Smith… maybe some things should be left untouched. However, the point is that the very tradition of the love story transcends time and literature, forever being reimagined and retold. These are my recommendations for this Valentine’s Day.

First on the list is Tessa Dare’s Girl Meets Duke series for some classic historical romance. The patriarchy sucks, but some occasions call for pretty dresses and handsome rakes. If Bridgerton wasn’t enough to satisfy you, these books will provide.

Next up is Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper, a series of graphic novels about two young queer boys with a romance so sweet you could just eat them up. Soon to be a Netflix adaptation, these books are available on digital reading app Tapas for free and are very bingeable – I know from experience.

This one has been specially hand-picked for the reader that just can’t stop scrolling AO3. Fear not, because this book will fulfil your fan-fiction needs. Enemies-to-lovers, quirky text messages and forbidden romance, you say? Casey Mcquiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue has answered your call.

Though it may be a polarising book, Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. The depiction of youthful infatuation is unflinching and prosaically marvellous.

Dear Sapphics, did you think I’d forgotten you? Well think again, because it’s time for some poetry, baby. As one of the first ever female poets (and one of the best) Sappho invented yearning and pining for pretty ladies. However, many of her poems sadly remain lost or in fragments, fragments which you can find in the Penguin Classics edition: Stung with Love

For a modern alternative, Taylor Jenkins Reid’s highly compelling The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is a sapphic love story set in the golden age of Hollywood (with a bisexual protagonist). If you’re anything like me, the juicy gossip of Reid’s alternate Hollywood will have you hooked just as much as the romance.

Next, Talia Hibberts’ The Brown Sisters trilogy is written for the introverts and the girls who can’t quite figure life out. With loveable, relatable characters and wacky clichés, these modern romances are speedy fun reads.

This list cannot be complete without the mother of romance dragons, Pride and Prejudice. If you wish to add a little spice, there is also an alternative with zombies. Similar to the premise of P&P, North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell deals with misunderstandings, pride, prejudice etc. albeit with a more sociopolitical setting and focus. If you like your romance to be integrated in a larger context, for that, North and South is a great romance and book in general. Think Dickens meets Austen.

Finally, I simply must include some Shakespeare, and my picks will always be the comedically gender-confused Twelfth Night and the banter-filled Much Ado About Nothing. The combo of wit and romantic tropes in these plays is a recipe for chaos.

Let books accompany you this Valentine’s and I shall leave you with the thematically relevant words of the American writer Erin Forbes: “The pen provides a pathway for the musings of the heart.”



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